Maritime Ferry Fun!

This past summer we took a loop vacation from Southern Nova Scotia to Grand Manan, NB with our last stop in Cavendish, PEI before heading back.  Part of the excitement of planning this trip was knowing how excited my kids were going to be to sail on all of the different ferries.  They’ve not yet been on a real cruise ship but some of these ships felt like a Carnival Cruise for them. Here’s a rundown of the ships we traveled aboard.

 “MV Fundy Rose”
Bay Ferries
Digby, NS – St. John, NB

Upon arrival in Digby for our first ferry ride of the day we checked in, explored the terminal and then headed back to the car to wait.   Thankfully, it was a sunny day so we could walk around outside to burn off some energy.  Our time had arrived to board and now that they’d seen the ferry, the kids were about to pop up out of their seats from the excitement. This ship was so much better than I could have imagined.  There were a couple different cafeterias.  The one out on deck was our favourite. Their “Foghorn” coffee hit the spot.  On this deck they had a table set up with all sorts of bits from the Bay of Fundy area.  I believe the super well-informed woman at the table was a Marine Biology student.   Just some of the items she had on display were a  piece of baleen from a Minke whale that we could feel, an intricately designed basket made of porcupine quills – the way first nations from the area would have crafted it, and even a 500 million year old fossil of the Trilobyte – an ancient ancestor of the lobster.  They had thought of everything for families including a basket of binoculars that we could borrow from and colouring sheets and crayons.  Isaac zeroed in on the binoculars and was immediately on the lookout for whales and sharks.  Though there are often whale sightings on this crossing, we didn’t see any that day.  There is live music on each summer crossing.   Here we were introduced to the musical talents of Hayley Ryerson.  She had people up and dancing and sang a song just for Maddie.  We were so impressed with her music we purchased the CD of her band “Kitchen Orkestra” and kept it on as the soundtrack throughout the rest of our trip to Grand Manan, NB and P.E.I.  We were able to arrange a tour of the bridge which thrilled these kids!  The Captain and crew patiently explained how all of the technology works and   let them jump up into the Captain’s seat and “steer” the ship.  Their day was made right then and there.  We’re hoping to be able to sail aboard the M.V. Fundy Rose again next summer as it was pure entertainment from Port to Port.

IMPORTANT: Take note of where your car is and what staircase you take to go up.  I thought I’d remember.  I didn’t.  We were the last to find our car, mere minutes before disembarking.  Not at all embarrassing.  Nope. Nope. Nope.

 

“MV Grand Manan V”
Coastal Transport,
Black’s Harbour, NB to Grand Manan, NB

We had just over an hour to get from Saint John to Black’s Harbour to check in for the ferry to Grand Manan.  According to Google Maps, the drive was 46 minutes.  That meant that as long as traffic cooperated and after stopping for gas, we’d slide into the lot just in the nick of time.  We checked in with 15 minutes to spare. On board we found a sweet little snack bar with home-style cooking, plus they had Froot Loops.  Win/Win for this family!  I enjoyed the fish chowder while the kids inhaled their 100% sugar cereal.  I’d certainly become more lax on the nutritional value of their food during this trip.  The decks gave plenty of opportunity for them to burn it off while keeping a keen eye for whales, sharks and seals.  The scenery was breathtaking from beginning to end. There was a children’s play room as well which would be a great benefit during rainy crossings. While exploring, a crew member saw the kids excited faces and asked if they wanted to see the bridge.  They absolutely jumped at the opportunity.  Again they were able to sit up in the Captain’s chair and “steer” the ship as well as checking out the radar.  The crew were very friendly and also gave us some tips for Grand Manan.  As we pulled into the harbour we were greeted by some whales!  Everyone was so distracted by the whales that we were all racing to our vehicles at the last minute.  But hey! At least I remembered where I left the car this time.

“MV Manan Adventure”
Coastal Transport
Grand Manan, NB to Black’s Harbour, NB

We took the M.V. Manan Adventure on our return.  If you are given the choice between ferries to and from Grand Manan, choose this one.  The other ship was great but this one is much newer, felt more spacious and had more modern amenities.  We found a large children’s playroom with a climber and a TV with “Treehouse” playing. There were several, comfortable lounge areas.  One section held a collection of theatre style seats and a television.  The cafeteria was large with a wide variety of snacks.  Being the creatures of habit we are, we opted for the Froot Loops and Fish Chowder again.  Yum!!  The booths were comfortable and had beautiful views.  There was ample space for the kids to safely burn off their energy on the upper deck, along with plenty of seating to enjoy the views.  I was thoroughly impressed with the cleanliness of the ship.  We could’ve stayed on this ferry for a couple more hours. 

“M.V. Holiday Island”
Northumberland Ferries
Woods Island, PEI – Caribou, Nova Scotia

We took the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island and opted to take the ferry from the Island back to Nova Scotia.  Regardless of whether the bridge or ferry is taken, payment is only made upon leaving PEI.  The ferry was about $30 more than the bridge, but the experience on board certainly made it worth it. Nearby the ferry terminal there is a large climber, picnic area and restaurant.  We’d bought some fresh strawberries from a roadside stand to snack on during the crossing.  As soon as we boarded we headed straight to the top deck, snagged some seats and ate every strawberry before the ship moved a foot.  PEI Strawberries for the win!  We were able to sneak in for a tour of the bridge of this ship, too.  The crew were very welcoming and let both kids “steer” this one as well.  Isaac was so proud that he knew the answers to the questions they asked about the radar.  After the tour, we hit the cafeteria.  An order of chicken fingers, a hot dog with delicious fries and fish chowder came to just $20. After being on the road for over a week, that price made my wallet very happy. There was a sampling available from Nova Scotia’s Hardy Wares Preserves.  I love that each crossing has a sampling from a local company.  We purchased 3 jars of yummy Carrot Cake Jam to take home.  We heard some music, searched it out and found Lester MacPherson, “PEI’s Country Gentleman” entertaining the crowd.  Maddie danced and danced to “Sonny’s Dream” and “Me and Bobby McGee” until he strummed his last chord of the day.  She took her own money that she’d been saving and with her most serious face, bought one of his CD’s.  When we return to PEI, we’ll be sure to take the ferry again.

Note: You can save 40% by taking the ferry to PEI and driving the bridge to leave instead of the other way around.

That’s the roundup of the ferries we were able to travel on this past summer.  Each ship has kept families in mind as they all offer kid-friendly foods and play areas.  While they were all educational and very entertaining, the MV Fundy Rose was an adventure wrapped inside of an adventure for our little family.  Maybe this summer we can manage a Newfoundland getaway and escape aboard the MV Atlantic Vison for the 178 km, 7 hour long ferry from North Sydney, NS to Port aux Basques, NL!

Island Hopping: P.E.I.

This past summer we took an Island adventure.  After kayaking and whale watching in Grand Manan, New Brunswick we crossed the nearly 13 kilometre (!!) Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island. 

The middle of the Island’s busy summer can be a tricky time to find nightly cottage accommodations as opposed to weekly.  After perusing the old Google box, I came across Green Gables Cottages.  They booked nightly, were right in Cavendish and the rate was very reasonable.  They were not beachfront but they did have a salt water pool.  I called them ASAP and booked.

The cottages are only a 45 minute drive from the bridge.  My GPS, however, took us on a wild goose chase straight to someone’s driveway so instead it took us 90.  We booked a “Type A- Efficiency Cottage”.  It was crazy adorable.  The cottage opened to a living room/bedroom with a bed, pullout couch, chair and television.  Off of the main room was a small, well-appointed full kitchen. Another door led to the bathroom.  The floors were a little crooked but that seemed to be a theme throughout this getaway.

After inhaling our breakfast, the next morning went just like this:

Them: POOL!!  MOM! MOM! CAN WE GO SWIMMING RIGHT NOW??!!
Me: As soon as I get a coffee.
Them: LOOK AT THAT CLIMBER!!!  CAN WE GO?!!
Me:  We can, just as soon as I get a cup of coffee.
Them: OOOOH!  THERE’S WASHERS HERE!  CAN WE GO GET OUR CLOTHES?! (seriously.)
Me: Definitely.  I’d like a quick cup of coffee first.
Them: THERE’S EVEN MONKEY BARS, MOM!  MOM! MOM! MOM! MOM!
Me: We can do all of this as soon as we find coffee.
Them: MOM…
Me:  COFFEE! COFFEE! COFFEE! COFFEE! COFFEE!

My point is that just a couple hundred metres up the road is Avonlea Village. Along with a bunch of other restaurants, there is a breakfast joint called “Samuel’s”.  They make coffee.  Divine coffee and lattes.  And some yummy breakfast to get everyone fed, jolly and ready to take on the day. They will be your friends.

Shining Waters Family Fun Park was our first adventure.  Isaac had been saving his nickels and dimes for months to this waterpark.  He handed over his hard earned cash and strolled on in.  It turned out to be a local company’s Family Day so it was a zoo.  I adore that so many companies still do this so won’t grumble about it. If you are planning to go, maybe shoot them a message first to see if there is an event going on that day.  We still had a great time.  The kids ran through the Mirror Maze on repeat.  Storybook Land had a bunch of puzzles to be solved which was a lot of fun.  There was also a very “swingy” swing bridge that hilariously freaked out a lot of people.  It was certainly a wobbly challenge to cross.  The rides were all fun and the line-ups weren’t too long at all.  The sideways house was pretty bananas and we all loved spinning around in the pumpkins.  The waterpark was super packed but we were able to enjoy the kiddie slide area for a long time as well as the pool.  The big slides had long lineups but my kids were too small for them anyway.  The food was fine and there was nice green space to eat it.  Adding more shade areas would be nice as it was hot, hot, hot in the sun.

The next day we made use of the laundry facilities at the cottages.  They were inexpensive and clean.  The kids played on the climber and, as kids manage to do, made new friends immediately.  The warm pool was calling our name, so we played there for a couple of hours.  We had planned on hitting “Sandspit Amusement Park” but after the busy day at the waterpark, this relaxation was just was we needed.

My mom surprised us with tickets to see “Anne of Green Gables: The Musical” in Charlottetown that evening.  I love all things Anne but taking us all to see the show was out of the budget for this trip so this was a fantastic surprise.

We got to Charlottetown about 90 minutes before show time. The street beside the theatre suddenly sprang to life with patios and live music and dancing.  We ate and danced until the very last second and then raced into the theatre to find our seats.  The show is long and I wasn’t sure how well the kids would handle that.  While the oldest became squirmy towards the end, my youngest was wide-eyed and laser-focused throughout.  She’s been hooked on musicals ever since.

The next day was our last and we were excited to get some seafood and beaching in.

Isaac had promised to eat a new food everywhere we went this summer.  In PEI we’d agreed on oysters.  After some research we landed on The Blue Mussel Café in North Rustico.  It’s a busy spot so we were sure to be there when they opened.  The restaurant was bright and airy and surprisingly had some of my favourite song lyrics framed and hung by the bar.  We ordered up 3 oysters.  Isaac gathered all of his nerve, squirted some lemon on the gelatinous shellfish and down the hatch it went.  According to him it tasted bad like the ocean, and he’s never eating one again. Ha!  I was super impressed that he tried it to start with.

Our last PEI adventure was the Greenwich Beach area which is part of the PEI National Park System. It was a bit of a drive, but well worth it.  We grabbed our water bottles and hit the trails. There is no access to running water so be sure to bring enough.  We could’ve used another bottle.  The well maintained trails lead to a boardwalk that crisscrossed through different ponds then to the ladder-style stairs at the dunes.  The dunes on every coast are eroding so stick to the designated trails and stairs to get over them.  Greenwich Beach is actually home to rare, Parabolic Dunes which was interesting to learn about.  The view from the top was breathtaking.  Even on this beautiful day, there weren’t crowds of people.  The water is shallow for a long ways out and there weren’t any big waves so it was super kid friendly.  We spent hours walking the beach, writing notes in the sand, finding treasure, breathing in that sweet salt air and just taking in the beauty around us.  If we get back to PEI this will certainly be a spot to while away a day.

We had so much fun on PEI and could’ve stayed a lot longer, but the time had come to ship out and we needed to board the exciting ferry back to Nova Scotia.

A couple things that weren’t able to sneak in were Sea Kayaking and Tuna fishing.  Luckily, this gives us even more to look forward to next time around.  Hopefully we can catch up again in 2019!

A Grand Ole Time in Grand Manan, NB

I’ve been curious about the Island of Grand Manan since a Mars bar commercial years ago about renovating their local arena. Seriously. So, I guess advertising works, even if it takes 10 years.

The chance finally arrived and we jumped! There are two different ships ferrying people to and from the Island. We were aboard the ‘Grand Manan V’ traveling to Grand Manan. There was plenty of seating with a lunch counter with real, home cooked meals. While exploring the outside decks a crew member noticed the kiddos and asked if they wanted to check out the bridge. Isaac was on it! They explained how everything worked and made the kids feel like VIP’s.

On our return trip we traveled aboard the ‘Grand Manan Adventure’. While both ships are fun, if given a choice when booking, choose this one! It’s newer, has a big kids play area with ‘Treehouse’ playing on the tv, a movie lounge, a large lunch counter and lots of seating inside and out on the decks.

Whales are a common sight from the ferries but we didn’t see any on our trips.

If timed properly, you can Island Hop between the Fundy Isles of Deer, Campobello, Grand Manan and Whitehead Islands. New Brunswick Tourism has a guide available to help you plan it out.

CHECKING IN:

We’d planned on camping at Anchorage Provincial Park but chickened out at the last minute as there was nasty weather threatening. Tent camping in the rain with kids is far from my favourite thing to do, so I searched the ole Google box for somewhere with a roof. I stumbled across the Marathon Inn and bonus, it was only a minute from the Ferry! The Inn is a Heritage Property built in 1887 and maintains all of the original character. Our booking was last minute so we didn’t get their finest room. The floors were a bit sloped and the fixtures could use some updating but the room was clean and the beds were super comfortable. There was a shared dining area down the hall with a kitchen for guests to use and a wrap-around porch where guests relaxed with their books. Maddie adored the cats, Mickey and Micey. The owners are lovely people who are new to the Island and purchased the Inn last year. We didn’t spend a ton of time at the Inn but would stay there again. Given the chance to go back we would also try to stay at Anchorage Provincial Park. Hole in the Wall camping is also an intriguing spot. We met a couple that were cliff camping there and woke up every day to the sounds of whales! It is definitely not kid friendly though.

EXPLORING:

WHALE WATCHING
We booked a whale watching tour with Sea Watch Tours. We arrived at Seal Cove wharf at 7:30, found our seats and scarfed down a snack. The Captain introduced himself and the guide and laid out the rules and the plan for day. There was hot chocolate and coffee available as well as sunscreen in case someone had forgotten theirs. We steamed out for about 45 minutes, seeing seals and sea birds along the way. Then, just like that there were whales! Lots of them! Finback whales! The second largest animal on the planet was right in front of us. Maddie was awestruck. “Mommy, there’s a whale! Another whale! Right there! Look, Look, Look!” We headed out further and found some Humpback Whales. There’s something humbling about seeing them breach or their tail flipping in the water. The tail markings are unique like a fingerprint so the guide could tell us exactly who we were seeing. Up front was a photo album with the pictures and names of the known whales in the Bay of Fundy. This was our third whale watching adventure after going out in St. Andrew’s, NB and Brier Island, NS. We saw the most whales on this trip.

SEA KAYAKING

The surprise highlight of our trip was Sea Kayaking! I’d never sat in a kayak in my life and wasn’t sure I could even paddle. I sent ‘Adventure High’ an email and they told me to come down and we could asses my skills, or lack thereof. Luckily the guide, Brady, offered to take one kiddo with him so I wasn’t paddling 3 of us. We chose the evening paddle. It was only 1.5-2 hours long we were the only ones signed up which meant less people to embarrass myself in front of. Ha! When the time came two other people had signed up. Luckily they weren’t seasoned pros either. We paddled out of the harbour, out to the Herring Weir where the guide explained how they work. Then around the corner and past Swallowtail lighthouse. The views with the setting sun were stunning. We saw lots of jellyfish and to Isaac’s delight, even some seals. If you do nothing else, do this. You honest to goodness don’t need any previous experience.

BEACHIN’

We spent part of a day relaxing at Anchorage Provincial Park. It’s totally free to use the beaches. In the park we drove by a beautifully peaceful migratory bird sanctuary. The kids were sleeping in the backseat and you couldn’t pay me to wake them, so I took my time on this drive. We drove right to the end where we found a very long and basically empty sand beach. There was also section which was rockier where Maddie scoured for stones. The water was shallow a long way out, the waves were small and there were big tide pools to splash around in. It was the perfect spot to unwind. Whenever we travel there is always a point at which I realize my kids are growing up far too quickly. This was it. I realized that I might be able to squeak out just one more summer where Maddie excitedly searches the beach for broken seashells as though they are gold nuggets, and that’s a big “might”.

CHOW DOWN:

Isaac has agreed to eat something new everywhere we go this summer. Dulse, an edible, red seaweed was the food of the day and he was excited to dig in. He hilariously and immediately regretted his decision. It’s exactly like chewing up sea water. It’s full of nutrients and some people can’t get enough of it. We are not those people.

We’d been told about ‘North Head Bakery’ before even leaving Ontario. “Get the coffee. You need to. They are the reason I drink coffee at all” a friend had said. We searched it out ASAP as this Mama needs her coffee. It is a fairly nondescript building, giving no clues about the delectable treats inside. The breads! The lemon cupcakes, cinnamon buns and Madeleine’s! We were excited to get a Madeleine for our little Madeleine. I tried – begged – for some coffee beans to take back home or even the brand but it is apparently a closely held secret.

We ate at Post Office Pizza each night. Firstly, because it was delicious. Secondly, because it was all that we could find that was open. It’s located down the hill from the Marathon Inn so it was convenient, too. They even had a selection of Kombucha. The building also houses a gift shop with items from local artisans, postcards in the old mail slots, clothing and surprisingly, a 3D printer! We couldn’t leave without a 3D printed shark. Super cool.

We had a half hour until checking in at the ferry so I decided to take the kids on a quick hike to Swallowtail Lighthouse. It’s a very kid-friendly hike and you can take a tour of the inside and go right up to the top

We were bummed to be leaving Grand Manan but were looking forward to the ferry ride and our next adventures on PEI.

We’re all hoping to get back to Grand Manan as there was so much we didn’t have time to explore. It’s an ideal combination of relaxation, stunning scenery and adventure.

Great Wolf Lodge: Splashing Through the Winter

This past Christmas we gave our kids a trip to Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls instead of a gaggle of gifts.  Christmas morning arrived and they were delighted with their small gifts and started planning what they were going to do first when we got to the water park.  Every morning Isaac would come roaring into our room, screaming the number of days left on the countdown.

The day finally arrived and we struck out bright and early so we could cram in as much time in the water park as possible.  We checked in and strapped on our fancy dancy bracelets. The bracelets are multipurpose.  They act as room key and the adults bracelets are connected to your credit card info so you don’t have to carry around you wallet.

You can use the water park before your room is ready, so pack your swimsuits and towels in a quickly accessible bag.  We were meeting friends there and they had rented a locker so we were able to put our boots and coats in there.  We’ve never rented a locker before though and have left our faith in humanity not to steal our gear, and thus far, humanity has prevailed.  Maddie braved the “Wooly Mammoth” slide this year, which is a slide with a giant tube that the whole family can go on.  She hated it so much that I think that if she ever sees it again it will be too soon.  She spent the rest of her water park time in the kiddie section which was perfect for her with 4 slides, basketball nets and various water installations.  Isaac loved the Squirrel & Falls slides which are twisty and fast.  I convinced him to go on the Canada Vortex a few times which is a tube ride for 2 that I love.  Isaac liked it, but for him, it didn’t hold a candle to the other two.

After a few hours we received the email telling us that our room was ready.  We had booked the Kid Camp room which has tent-style room with bunkbeds, a wee little desk and a TV for the kiddos.  Separate from that we had a queen bed, a pull out sofa, tv, mini-fridge and a balcony.

We invested in the MagiQuest wand and game this year.  Luckily our friend’s oldest son was there to figure out the game and explain it to the younger ones because my hubby and I are about as techie as a kitchen chair.  From what I gather you embark on these “quests”, sort of like scavenger hunts, that consist of riddles sending you throughout the lodge opening up treasure chests, lighting up crystals and paintings on the wall.  This seems to be a hit with a lot of people.  We encountered one woman who had an entire outfit dedicated to the game and has apparently been doing it for years.

If you are planning on getting the wand, definitely opt for the Paw Pass.  The wand alone, along with the topper for it came to $60.  The Paw Pass is $69.99 and includes a bunch of activities that you’re likely to do anyway like bowling, a set of wolf ears and a stuffing station animal.

We opt for the Breakfast buffet.  It was $40 per day for our room.  We’re big breakfast people and have always been full by the time we leave.  They have an omelet station, fresh fruit, yogurt, oatmeal, French toast, pancakes, ham, an assortment of yummy egg dishes, cereal – and that’s just the stuff we devoured.  There is certainly something for everyone to fill up on, even my picky 6 year old.  We brought sandwich fixin’s, fruit, milk, crackers and other snackies to keep in the room for lunch.  For supper each night we ordered pizza from downstairs.  It was around $17 and enough to fill us all up with a few slices to spare.  I also ordered the “loaded potatoes” which to my disappointment were decidedly unloaded.  The snack foods in the bakery are too much to resist.  We had chocolate covered strawberries, Oreo cheesecake (twice), chocolate covered marshmallows and cookies.

The kiddie-casino, er, arcade is a hit with every single kid.  The points to play are loaded onto a card to swipe at the games instead of carting around bags of quarters.  Points are awarded onto the card at each game and can be redeemed at the counter for various toys and trinkets.  Since Christmas morning, Isaac and Maddie had been working little jobs to save up their arcade cash.  It was burning a Jupiter sized hole in their pocket and they asked to go to the arcade the second we left the water park.

We did the bowling on our last day there.  The lanes are shorter than a standard bowling lane so the kids love it.  It’s fairly pricey at $5 per person/per game, but we got a pizza and bowling package so it wasn’t as steep.

I was hoping to check out the Scoops Spa for a pedicure with Maddie this year but didn’t get the chance.  Something to look forward to for next year.

The coffee at the shop in the lobby is just strong enough to jolt me to life after being awoken at 5 by two crazy kids that are desperate to hit the slides.  This is also where you can distinguish the parents on day 1 from the parents on day 3.  Day 1 parents are dressed in clothes that make sense, hair brushed, shoes on, a glimmer in their eyes and are ready to take on the day.  Day 3 parents are in their jammies, serious bedhead, are wearing a single sock and with a vacant stare just mouth the words “coffee” to the barista.

We were able to stay for a third night but switched to a standard room to save money.  There were two queen beds and a pull-out couch.  The kids begged to sleep on the pullout, because “Whoa! Mom! Mom! Mom! Watch this! The couch IS a bed.”  I wish that we still got that excited about a pull out.

We look forward to our little Great Wolf Lodge getaway every year.  There’s something extra fun about a water park in the dead of winter, plus it’s when they have the best deals.  You could absolutely do Great Wolf Lodge for just the price of the room.  Bring your own food to keep in the mini fridge.  There is so much included to keep your littles busy like the water park, story time, dance party and yoga.  Just be prepared to say “no” quite a bit.

Quick Tips:
1. Wednesday was the least busy
2. The best deals are to be had in December (for the January stay)
3. Get to story time early to get a good seat
4. If there is availability they will offer you an additional night at a great discount

Very important side note:  While our husbands and kids were having some downtime in the rooms my friend and I snuck away for some girl time.  We ordered a couple margaritas from the bar by the wave pool and Oh. My. Goodness. It was far and away the best margarita I’ve ever had.  If you like margaritas, even just a little, order one up…Wolf strength.

St. Andrews, NB: Tall Ships, Taller Tales

In early August we were able to sneak away for a last minute getaway to St. Andrews By-The-Sea.  If you didn’t catch the first post about our getaway, be sure to check it out here.

After an exciting day filled with Starfish and Seals, we enjoyed a giant slice of pizza at a seaside park.  The kids ran amok on the rock beach searching for treasure while we waited for our whale watching adventure aboard The Jolly Breeze to begin.

With the kids outfitted in their pirate hats and eye patches, we made our way to the wharf.  There were pirate costumes available that the kids could borrow if they wished.  The total cost with taxes for the three of us was $138.00 which is on par with other whale watching tours.  We walked down the steep ramp to the dock and watched for our ship to come in.  There were jellyfish and starfish in the water that we could see while waiting.

Finally, The Jolly Breeze appeared in the harbour.  I was as excited as the kids to board the tall ship.  The kids both loved all of the flags.  Once we were all seated they went over the rules and we were off.  We sailed out for about an hour before looking for whales.  During this hour we saw tons of seals on the rocks, a bald eagle and some porpoises jumping in the water.  One of the crew came along with face paint and painted sharks and starfish on their faces.  This was a great distraction for kids that were getting antsy.  The bathroom was downstairs, or rather down ladder.  One adult needs to be at the bottom as the kids scale down.  As my kids only had one parent there, I had to rely on the kindness of other parents for a minute to watch them at the top.  I climbed down, then Isaac, then I climbed back up and got Maddie situated to climb down.  I was a little nervous for her, but she nailed it.  Along with the bathroom there is a big table with colouring pages, pencil crayons and books to read.  This was a hit.  I nearly had to drag Isaac away to go look for some whales.  The Captain slowed down and the crew looked and listened for the whales.  Now, here’s where we failed as whale watching passengers.  The kids were having so much fun with all of the other activities on board that they missed them altogether.  That said, apparently everyone else saw some Minke whales which was pretty exciting.

We toured around a little bit more, and more attentive passengers saw one more whale.  The journey back was full of activity.  One crew member brought around a piece of baleen to see and feel.  All of the kids lined up and helped hoist the sail which was a memorable experience for Isaac.  Then, they brought out the soup.  Pea soup.  Now, bear with me…While getting ready to go, I looked at a pair of jeans and a pair of white cotton pants with hearts on them for Maddie.  I inexplicably chose the white pants and in an even more confusing twist put the other outfit back in our suitcase as opposed to in our bag to take along.  What.  Was.  I.  Thinking.  Maddie took one sip of the soup then immediately poured it all over herself.  We climbed downstairs and cleaned up to the best of our ability using every wipe I brought along.  She was now wet and since we were on a boat, she was going to be cold.  There are blankets available for chilly passengers so I scooped one up and wrapped her up as snug as a bug.  Luckily Maddie is pretty easy going and it didn’t seem to faze her.

Note:  There is nothing glamourous about traveling with kids, folks.
Note 2:  Always, always, always bring spare pants.

This was also the point where Isaac was being the best pirate he could be.  As he was pulling off his eye patch, he caught his pirate hat and over it went into the bay.  Again, thankfully he wasn’t upset and just said “Bummer, there that goes”.  One of the crew then brought out a touch tank!  Out of all of the activities they have available, this was by far the best.  The kids could hold a crab, lobster, sea cucumber, starfish and many other little creatures.  The crew member that was doing this was patient with answering the many questions fired at her by all of the eager children and was sure to teach them how to hold them carefully and gently.  The last activity was to take a turn at the helm.  All of the kids lined up and hopped up to the wheel.  They had their pictures taken and then received a fun certificate.  With that the sailing was over.

If you are planning to go whale watching with your little people, I can’t recommend this place enough.  We chose this one because even if we didn’t see any whales there would be enough to keep them entertained.  As it turned out the entertainment was more exciting for my small people than the whale watching.  And really, who doesn’t want to play a pirate aboard a real tall ship?

We were done the sail and getting pretty tired.  I was planning on driving to Sussex and staying there for the night but hadn’t booked anything and I really wanted to get Miss Maddie cleaned up.  I pulled out my phone and checked to see if there was any availability in town.  To my amazement I came across a good deal at The Algonquin Resort.  I booked it immediately and we checked our tired selves in.  The lobby was beautiful and the staff were so kind.  We accidentally missed the elevator alcove and walked through the great room.  There were families enjoying a snack and laughing while playing games together like Clue and Scrabble.  It was like a movie.  Like walking into the clubhouse from Dirty Dancing.

I was so grateful to find a super comfy, King size bed in our room.  Isaac loves to organize our shoes and gear when we get to a hotel room.  When he opened up the closet to put away our shoes, he found a cozy robe.  He had it on in 2 seconds flat, curled up in the wing back chair and watched some Bubble Guppies.  The toiletries in the bathroom smelled just like a spa.  There was even a loofah which I quickly squirreled away in our bag.  Hey!  Isn’t that what they’re there for?   After the day we had, the kids quickly fell asleep.

In the morning we headed to their restaurant.  There was a breakfast buffet complete with smoothies and an omelet station.  Maddie loved the strawberry smoothies.  I loved the green smoothies and the perfect coffee.  The total for us for the breakfast buffet, before tip, came to $34.01.  Because of Maddie’s age she was free.  Win!

We headed back to the room and got ready for a swim.  There is a corkscrew water slide that Isaac was desperate to try.  There are two pools.  One indoor and one outdoor and neither really has a shallow end.  The shallow parts were right around 4 feet so Isaac stuck to the slide.  He made fast friends with a bunch of kids and went down the slide at least 75 times. I was able to get him out to go check out the outdoor pool.  There were people lounging around and it seemed like more of a mellow environment.  I didn’t want to disturb their serenity so we only swam here a short time.  It was then time to head out.  We packed the car up and struck out for Nova Scotia.

When we get back here again, I will certainly be finding a way to stay at The Algonquin.  It’s great for mom and dad as well as the kids.  The staff come from far and wide to work a summer there and I can see why. We will definitely book 2 nights here.

I am so grateful that we had the opportunity for this last minute escape to St. Andrews By-The-Sea and will certainly be adding to our list to discover again.

St. Andrews, NB:  Starfish, Seals and Seaside Fun!

It was the end of July and we were deep into the dog days of summer. Our original summer plans were rescheduled and we were getting antsy to strike out and find some adventure.  I pulled out the Google box and started to search for somewhere to explore with the kids.  I came across the town of St. Andrews in New Brunswick which billed itself as “Canada’s Premier Seaside Resort”. After perusing their site I quickly decided that this is where we would go.  It was only 13 hours from our door and seemed super family friendly.

The activities we decided on were The Huntsman Aquarium, beach combing and whale watching aboard the tall ship “The Jolly Breeze”.  Finding last minute accommodations in St. Andrews was a totally different story.  We were however, finally able to secure a room at the Greenside Motel.

We struck out early on a Wednesday morning and after making a few extra stops along the way, arrived in town around 9:30 that night.  We checked in and received the key-yes, an actual key-to our room.  New owners took over a couple years ago and the amount of work they’ve done is evident.  I think in another year or two this place will be great little spot.  There was a kitchenette complete with pots, pans, coffee maker, microwave, mini fridge, hot plate and toaster oven.  We found a queen size bed waiting for us.  We snuggled in and fell asleep.  We were up early and ready to roll.  As I was packing up our stuff I heard a loud “POP”!  I ran to the kitchen and found that Maddie had somehow managed to microwave our toothpaste.  Yup.  That happened.  We narrowly averted an emergency, packed the car and skedaddled outta there.

Bonus:  The Motel gave the kids both a full size pack of gum upon checkout.
Bonus Bonus:  They ate it and didn’t stick it to the car seats or in their hair.

The first stop was of course the Tim Hortons across the road.  They scarfed down their breakfast and I adequately caffeinated.  We headed over to the Huntsman Aquarium.  The road leading into it is currently under construction.  I asked one of the guys directing traffic which way to the aquarium.  He looked at me strangely and pointed to the giant building, literally right in front of us.  Whoops.  We arrived just in time to see the seal feeding.  There was a small crowd though, so we couldn’t really get a good view.  We watched a few minutes then went to check out the giant touch tanks.  This, my friends, was a huge win!  Both kids loved every second of it.  Isaac was full of questions and the ladies working there were so kind to him and answered every single question in a way that he could understand.  The water is pumped into the tanks from the bay and has a 95% recycle rate.  There were starfish, sand dollars, lobsters, skate fish, urchins, crabs, flounder, sea cucumbers, clams and I’m sure there were more that I didn’t see.  With each creature we picked up we discussed what they felt like, what they looked like, what they ate and what ate them.  The skate fish were really interesting.  We could feel them as they’d glide by.  They’d also stick themselves to the glass and their underside looks like a smiley face.  If you go, please remember not to pick them up.  Staff had to tell the same 3 people about 5 times to stop.  Downstairs we found lots of other fish including my personal favourite, sea horses.  There were wall-sized aquariums with schools of fish swimming around and lots of other creatures.  There are also lots of games and a model fishing boat that the kids can play in.  There is a secret area behind a door to go see other sea animals that aren’t on exhibit.  There was an additional fee for this though and since I wasn’t 100% sure whether it would be worth it we didn’t venture in.  We will next time, because there will certainly be a next time.  As soon as we drove away they were asking when we could come back.

We went for a drive downtown to find something to grab for lunch.  We wandered into Olde Tyme Pizza and ordered some giant slices and drinks.  I drove to a rock beach with picnic tables to enjoy our slices.  I then let the kids loose on the beach to look for treasure.  Isaac is convinced that he found a dinosaur head fossil and Maddie filled my pockets with shells and stones.

They played, ran and treasure hunted until it was time to go whale watching.  We’d been excited for this since we booked it.

I’m going to save that and our awesome surprise bonus night at the Algonquin Resort for the next post though…

I’d go back to St. Andrews tomorrow with my kids.  The whole town seemed family friendly and oh so charming.  I’ll definitely plan to stay at least 3 nights as there is so much to see and do.

Cape D’Or: Rugged and Unplugged

We were able to sneak away for a last minute escape to Lockeport, Nova Scotia this Spring.  On our way back home to Ontario, we had the chance to make a couple of stops.

Like every 5 year old I’ve ever known, my little guy loves all things dinosaur, so we headed to the Fundy Geological Museum and Joggins Cliffs Fossil Centre.  While looking for a place to stay in between the two, a few spots popped up including the Cape D’Or Lighthouse in Advocate Harbour.  I’m a certified lighthouse junkie and staying at a lighthouse has long been on my bucket list.  I knew that it would be a thrill for my little people, too.  The tourist season hadn’t officially started yet so most of the touristy type spots were still closed for another couple weeks.  I took a chance though and sent an email to the manager.  To my delight, he called me that evening.  They weren’t truly open yet but he was going to see if he could make it work.  The next day he called to say that everything would be ready.  I told the kids that we were going to stay at a lighthouse but we knew nothing of the adventure we were about to embark upon.

We spent the day driving and checking out the Geological Museum where they learned about the formation of rock and the different dinos that have been discovered in the area.  We then started our journey to the lighthouse.  Google Maps told me that the drive would be 52 minutes.  That, my friends, may be true in theory but certainly not in practice.  We turned off the paved, Parrsboro Shore Road onto one of the twistiest, hilliest road I’ve ever been on.  The transmission in my trusty Camry was in a near constant state of confusion as we drove up, down and twisted around.  Just as soon as I started to wonder what I’d gotten us into or if Google maps was hacked, the tippy top of a lighthouse appeared.  Phew!  It was the little, replica lighthouse in the parking lot at Cape D’Or.  We got out and took in the view.  Breathtaking!  The scenery was straight off of a postcard.  With a wee bit of intimidation and a whole lot of determination we stared down the hill we were to hike down to the lighthouse.  We gathered our belongings for the night and began the trek down.  This took longer than I had anticipated.  After being at the Geological Museum earlier, the kids were very interested in the gravel we were walking on and picked up and examined many of the colourful stones on the way down.  With our pockets lined with rocks, we made it to the bottom.  It was worth every minute of the adventure thus far.  We ran over to check out the lighthouse and…what was that little thing in front of the lighthouse?  A Foghorn!  Isaac was very excited about this. We explored all we could until the rain began.  Isaac and Maddie played pirates, pretended to be lobster fishermen and played baseball with the buoys.  The daffodils had just emerged and were a glorious shot of colour when the skies turned grey.

Once the rain started we headed into the “Light Keepers Guest House”.  It’s a shared type of accommodation.  Upon entering, there was a sitting area with two couches, a sink, dishes, coffee maker with coffee, bar fridge, bookshelf full of books and a table and chairs with some of the fresh cut daffodils in a vase.  The kids, of course, were most excited to check out their rooms.  We had the two rooms at the back with a bathroom to use at the end of the hallway.  One room had a queen bed and the other two twins.  Isaac decided on his bed right away and staked his claim.  Maddie ended up with me that night so he had the room to himself.

We dug out our supper, devoured it and headed back outside where we found some rabbits!  Maddie was in love with them.  They ran and played until dusk.  As we were headed inside, the fog horn sounded for the first time.  It was as loud as expected and startled all of us.  Maddie covered her ears and Isaac shouted “Whooooa! That’s so cool, Mom!”.  Back in the house the noise was substantially muffled, but still loud.  I was concerned that the horn going off, 3 times a minute, would keep them awake.  And it did, but not much later than usual and Isaac thought it was just so cool.  Maddie didn’t share his interest in it but it didn’t seem to bother her too much.  Isaac played lighthouse keeper until bedtime.  There isn’t any tv or wifi which for the most part was a welcome break from the world but at the witching hour before bed I like the little break that tv offers me.  I plugged in my computer and prayed that the temperamental DVD player in it would work.  I popped in The Lorax and waited.  The opening credits popped up.  Yay!  Isaac snuggled up in a blanket on the couch and watched.  Maddie wasn’t into the movie so instead hopped like one of the bunnies up and down the hallway.  I was super grateful to have the place to ourselves because keeping these two secluded to one room would have been a little like herding cats at that moment. We all got ready for bed, read our stories and let the sound of the waves (and fog horn) send us to sleep.  Early in the morning- so, so early- Isaac came bounding into the room excited that the fog horn was still sounding.  We were up and outside to investigate in 5 minutes flat.  The sun was peaking through the clouds and the bunnies were watching us from the bushes.  We explored and hiked around the area and they played pirates for a couple hours.  The restaurant onsite wasn’t open yet for the season so we munched on the snacks we had left and I drank a pot of coffee.  We did the dishes, packed up our stuff, closed up and readied ourselves for the trek back up to the car.  Again, with pockets full of colourful stones and some sticks for good measure, we made it to the car.  It was at this moment that I realized just how out of shape I was and committed to get back running and biking again upon our return home.

This is a one-of-a-kind spot that is worth the twisty roads and hills to find.  This was far and away the most secluded and rugged spot I have stayed with the kids.  The unplugged nature of it was relaxing.  I love watching imaginations come to life in the absence of screens.  I’ve heard great things of the restaurant but we didn’t get to test it out ourselves.  The manager, Darcy, is kind and as unique as the location itself.  He’s accommodating and I’m sure, given some notice would be able to give you a ride up and down the hill if you aren’t able to hike it.  This is a functioning lighthouse with a light and a fog horn when it’s foggy.   Do not come with 5 star resort expectations.  This is not the Marriot Harbourfront.  You will not find a spa, wifi, jacuzzi or sauna.  You will however have an authentic, rugged and memorable Nova Scotia experience.